This week I stood in front of my Pre-Ap English class and listened to a conversation the students were having about the unfairness of an analytical discussion grade they had earned.
I had asked for their concerns and opinions, and was surprised to find that they weren’t upset with me about the grade, they were upset with each other.
To summarize, they individually earned points for analytical comments while engaging in group conversation. Some students got twelve tallies, while others got one. The students who got one tally were upset with those who talked “too much” and these students were upset because they felt that the others “weren’t prepared.”
I let them verbally duke it out for about ten minutes, hoping that they might come to their own solution. However, twisted up in their sixteen-year old wisdom, they couldn’t see past the problem in order to find resolution. I finally intervened, and said “You know guys, if you treated this a team effort, ensuring that you were encouraging others to speak and actually LISTENING to each other, this wouldn’t be a problem. There are so many other assignments in this class which are competitive in nature, but this is more of a team assignment.”
Some of the students nodded sagely, while others looked at me in shock. But one student looked at me disgustedly and said, “Yeah, but life is NOT a team sport!”
I just gazed back at her, taken aback by the impassioned tone with which she said this. We continued on with class, but her comment has stuck with me since then. I wasn’t sure how to respond to her, for many reasons.
The first reason is that I am, in many ways, just like her. I don’t like to depend on other people. I wear the label “fiercely independent” like a medal of honor. I prefer to do things myself because I know I can do them correctly. I struggle with true vulnerability because it feels like weakness. A small part of me refuses to trust that people are dependable, reliable, and that they are capable of taking care of my heart.
But this week, God has been working on my stubborn self in this area. He has placed me in vulnerable positions all week long, and it has been a challenge.
I visited a church this past Sunday with a dear friend, and I loved it. The music was beautiful and the preaching was impassioned. I found out they had a youth group for people from 18-25, divided into groups for college, career, and married people. My first thought was, “Wow, that would be so cool! Too bad I’ll never go to that.” I’m not a “I’ll just stop by and check it out” kind of person. I’m more of a “I’ll make a heavily researched pro-con list and overthink about it” kind of person.
But somehow, this group kept popping into my head, for several days. Finally seeing that God might be talking, I decided to listen. And I went. My hands were shaking as I entered the building which vibrated with loud music and radiated with low lighting. I was petrified, moving in small steps slightly further into the room, and I was thinking “God, why on earth have you brought me here?!”
As it turns out, I think He might have taken me there for the people.
Not the music, which was beautiful and soulful.
Not the message, which was biblical and meaningful.
I was invited by the career group to come to a Mexican food gathering two nights later, and again I thought, “Oh that’s really nice, but I’m NOT going to that. I don’t even know these people.”
Aaaaaand as I pulled into the driveway two nights later with chips and hot sauce in hand, I thought, “Alright, God. What are you doing, man? Why are sending me all up into these people’s circle? You know I’m not a circle kind of person. I’m independent. I don’t need this.”
And I don’t. I don’t need those people. I’ve got a small circle of friends I’ve known for years and I love them and I have a good career and a loving family and two dogs and a cat.
So I repeated that list in my mind to ward off my nervousness as I walked in and started talking to people. These people, everywhere. As I sat on a bar stool with a cookie in hand, laughing hysterically with my feet up on the back of a couch, I remembered again the mental mantra that I didn’t need these people. But in that moment, with potential friendships taking root in paper trees taped out of receipts, laughter over the kitchen sink, discussions about Jesus over ground beef, I wanted them.
And this morning when I came to work, the teachers were informed that one of our own was dealing with a tragedy. A teacher at the high school lost her son last night, and we were invited to gather in the gym to pray if we wanted to. As I entered the gym, we formed a circle, holding hands and wrapping our arms around each other, and we prayed and shed tears for the woman we all love, together. And again I was struck by how much I wanted them. I could have grieved for that family alone in my room, but I wanted to be with people who knew that teacher, who knew me, who knew God.
After all this, I wish I could go back to that moment. I wish that I could have looked back at my student, and been honest with her.
I would have told her that she’s right. Life is not a team sport. You have to rely on yourself to get the hard parts of life done. You don’t need people. But in those hard parts, in the mess of the everyday and the grief of loss, and in the joy of reality when laughter covers you like cookie crumbs, you might surprise yourself by finding that you want them.